I am 51 years old. It feels strange to have lived half a century and have seen things change in various ways both socially and technologically. People tend to over estimate the changes in their own lifetime, a proclivity that is, I suppose, a predictable outcome of their egos. My intellect reminds me of how little has really changed, but my emotions are amazed by the changes that have actually taken place. I grew up in the US when the last vestiges of Jim Crow were finally being dismantled. Racism against African Americans was still public, rife, and systemic, but people were fighting against it and winning. Terrible sacrifices were made, good people like Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers were taken from us, young people like the three Mississippi civil rights workers were murdered in cold blood. But these sacrifices were only the tip of the iceberg of pain, suffering, and humiliation that average African Americans had been suffering for a couple of centuries in North America.
But things were changing when I was young and they have continued to change. Each new generation in North America carries a little less racist baggage. With the exception of the racism against Indigenous people (which is still shockingly open and public), blatant racism has been withering and dying in North America. When I see my youngest daughter and her friends, I realize that racism just doesn’t register with them the way it did with my generation. That much is encouraging.
But the emotional baggage, the underlying impulse of racism, is still alive and well, as the current events of the election demonstrate, and that fact is depressing beyond measure. The fact that moral degenerates like Stephen Harper and Jason Kenny can so easily stoke fear and latent hatred, can so easily throw aside the principles of religious freedom diversity, and so easily generate cooperation in their immoral task by average people makes me feel almost as though we haven’t come very far at all in my lifetime.
Apparently, despite all the progress I thought (or at least hoped) we had made, all a politician has to do to regenerate heated racism in Canada is brandish thoughts of a conspiracy by “radical Islamics” who are led by crazed “Jihadists” and represented in our country by one average woman who doesn’t want the state to tell her how to dress. Bang! Instant irrationality and historical regression. No matter that there are not “Jihadists” behind every corner. No matter that more Canadians died from car accidents this week than from “terrorism” in the last ten years. No matter that despite her personal dress preferences Zunera Ishaq has no interest in turning Canada into an Islamic state. No matter that a country like Germany (a country with considerably greater security concerns than our own) can receive tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees without a single act of “Jihadist Terror.” Never mind that white supremacists are a much greater threat to our safety and security than Muslims. Where bigotry is concerned, the facts don’t matter. Racism relies on fear, on our basest emotions, and on underlying feelings of hatred.
We are experiencing a terrible moment in our history. It is a moment that will later be looked upon much like our treatment of Japanese Canadians in WWII. We are embarrassing ourselves to our children and grandchildren. They are going to look back and wonder how we let ourselves be so foolish despite all our historical experience with racism. But it is always the same story. We are weak and all too often we let ourselves be led by our weakest impulses.